In a city where gunfire echoes in the streets almost every day, the Oakland Unified School District has its own armed police officers who mostly patrol outside middle and high schools in high-crime areas, and 85 officers without firearms inside schools.
Even here, though, educators like Charles Wilson, principal of the Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy, were quick to criticize the controversial proposal Friday from the National Rifle Association to put an armed guard in every American school.
"Insane," Wilson said. "Chilling.''
All across the Bay Area, school administrators, law enforcement officials and gun control activists seem uncomfortable with the idea that the first thing children see at school every day should be a person with a gun.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre created a national firestorm Friday when he called for armed guards in all schools -- perhaps drawn from pools of qualified citizens who could work with police -- in response to last week's elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said, urging Congress "to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation."
Some Bay Area schools -- including high schools in Fremont, Union City, Newark, Richmond and elsewhere -- do already have armed officers on watch; the Alum Rock Union Elementary School district pays San Jose police $250,000 per year to put armed officers in its five middle schools for most of the day. But most schools don't, and some people find the idea abhorrent.
Wilson said the threat of violence is nothing new at his East Oakland school. Long before last week's slayings, his teachers locked their classroom doors to keep students safe from the area's heavy gang activity and gun violence. Korematsu and the other school on its campus share one unarmed school security officer.
But Wilson doesn't just consider the idea of arming such officers -- most of whom have little weapons training -- misguided.
"I believe that this is one of the most outrageous things that has ever been said by the NRA," he said. "This sounds like profiteering ... looking for ways to make a profit off the killing of children."
Fremont Unified School District Superintendent James Morris said an armed school resources officer is stationed at each of the district's five high schools plus the continuation high school, but not at any other schools.
"I'm a strong proponent for safe schools, but I'm certainly not a proponent for armed security guards at every school. It's just not necessary," Morris said. "There will always be incidents, but the notion of an armed guard at every site sends the wrong message. Our schools are the safest places for young people in the community, in Fremont, specifically and in general."
Morris said the district has talked with parents, staff and students about last week's Connecticut killings, and has received suggestions on where security might be tightened. "Our campuses aren't enclosed compounds, but we're looking at areas where maybe a fence would be good to separate the school from a public park. A lot of it for us means just working with the community and knowing that everybody has to be vigilant."
Emeryville police Chief Ken James, who helped spearhead California's drive to outlaw the "open carry" of unloaded firearms, said the NRA's idea just isn't viable.
"Carrying a gun is a great responsibility. Police officers go through a lot of vetting, including psychological testing just to get a job, then on top of that there's the training they go to," he said, adding that parents should want that kind of vetting and training for anyone carrying a firearm in a school. "But when you get to that level of training and responsibility, it becomes quite expensive."
There are about 99,000 public schools nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The National Association of School Resource Officers, an Alabama-based group representing school-based police, estimates such a guard costs $80,000 per year in annual income, equipment and benefits, so that would be about $7.92 billion.
"I don't believe the answer is more guns ... but I don't think banning guns is the answer, either," James said. "We really do need to start looking at the mental health aspect of violence, also."
The Palo Alto Unified School District confronted a mental health crisis in 2009 when several high school students committed suicide on the Caltrain tracks. Superintendent Kevin Skelly said people "want to be compassionate toward people with mental illness."
"Clearly, we need to make sure that guns don't end up in the hands of people with serious mental health issues," he said.
But his schools don't have armed guards, and he has no intention of adding them. He said a guard would only provide a false sense of security. "My goodness," he said of the NRA proposal, "this just feels completely out of touch with what most people's reactions are."
Staff writers Chris De Benedetti, Mike Rosenberg, Ashly McGlone and Theresa Harrington contributed to this report. Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.